BattleTech, at its core, is a wargame featuring giant robots stomping across the battlefield. The BattleMech is the king of the battlefield, carrying a number of weapons capable of melting a light tank. The game’s draw is having these massive mecha battle each other across a map. To this end, the game comes with a number of pre-made BattleMechs, but there are rules for players to design their own.
The mechanics allow for a range of weapons, including three sizes of lasers, a particle projection cannon, two types of missiles – long and short range – which can come configured in different sizes of launchers. To deal with infantry, there is also machine guns and flamers. In the 31st century, war crimes happen. Each different weapon does a set amount of damage that whittles away the enemy ‘Mech’s armour. Once the armour is breached, the internal structure can be damaged, with components, like arm and leg actuators or weapons and ammo, can be destroyed. Destroying ammunition can potentially destroy the location it’s in. Destroy the head or centre torso of a ‘Mech and it is down for good.
Turns are broken down into phases. Whichever side wins initiative can decide who moves first. Each side then, by initiative, then moves a number of their ‘Mechs, trying to get into a good position. Once all the BattleMechs are done moving, the shooting phase starts. Shooting is considered to be simultaneous, so no ‘Mech takes the effects of weapons lost during the phase. After all the shooting has been done, if two ‘Mechs are close enough, they can try to punch or kick each other. Finally, all the effects of being hit can take effect, with piloting rolls to stay upright and heat management taken care of. If a ‘Mech runs too hot, it can shut down, and even lower amounts of heat can slow a ‘Mech down and make it harder to hit with weapons. The game continues until one side is eliminated, achieves a mission goal, or the players run out of time for the game.
There are tactics and strategies to be considered. Should a light ‘Mech be sent ahead to draw out enemy forces and risk destruction, or should the slower ‘Mechs walk up? Even choosing which BattleMechs to use can make a difference. Sure, there’s an UrbanMech variant, the SuburbanMech, that carries a PPC and is speedy for an Urbie, but it’s still slow and light compared to a Panther, which also carries a PPC but is faster.
With all the moving parts involved, automating it is a natural next step. There have been video games in the past, including the MechWarrior series, but they’ve been focused on putting the player into the cockpit of a BattleMech. Harebrained Schemes’ 2018 release, simply called BattleTech corrects that oversight. Headed up by Jordan Weisman, one of the original creators of the wargame, the video game allows a player to create a lance of ‘Mechs to then take into battle.
The video game has three different modes of game play. The first is the Campaign mode, where the player goes through a storyline involved the fall and restoration of House Amano in the Aurigan Coalition, a minor Periphery nation. The player starts with a mix of medium and light ‘Mechs and can take mercenary contracts while also doing missions for the head of House Amano to restore her rightful place. The second is Career, which is purely a mercenary campaign without the story related missions from the campiagn. The third is Skirmish, which allows a player to take on the AI or play against another player.
In all three modes, the core game play is lance versus lance BattleMech fights. Initiative is decided by Mech size and character piloting skills. In Campaign and Career modes, players can improve the piloting, gunenry, tactical, and guts skills of their unit. With Skirmish, players can choose from a roster of pilots with varying skills. Once the player’s lance has made contact with the enemy, whether AI or player, initiative determines who moves when. Faster ‘Mechs tend to move sooner than heavier, and the piloting skill can affect the score further.
Instead of separating move and shooting into separate phases, each pilot on his or her turn can move then shoot. Manoeuvring becomes key; a ‘Mech’s rear armour tends to be thinner than in front. Cover and movement help in not getting hit by enemy fire. Heat management is still important, and different types of worlds can affect how fast heat is dissipated.
The game comes with a wide range of BattleMechs with at least one variant per ‘Mech. It is also possible to modify ‘Mech, exchanging weapons to match a player’s preference. The only limit is the ‘Mech’s tonnage and, in Campaign and Career modes, available budget. A Locust with a PPC is, in theory, possible, but the trade-off may be having paper-thin armour. Not every published BattleMech is in the game. The designers started the storyline in 3025, well before the Clans invaded the Inner Sphere. ‘Mechs are being added with DLC that expands not just the choice of BattleMechs but adding to Campaign and Career modes.
The video game emulates the wargame well, even taking into account changes that the new format requires. The BattleMechs look like they do in the books and as miniatures. Urbies are appropriately slow, and assault ‘Mechs are an absolute monster to take on. The computer does the heavy lifting of tracking expendables and damage and calculating whether a shot hits. What could take a full evening to play with friends takes an hour or so. There is a challenge when playing against the AI, and there is a variety of battlefields to choose. In Campaign and Career modes, the option to change a unit’s colours appears as a desk with minis being painted.
The BattleTech video game achieves what it set out to do, emulate the tabletop wargame, taking care of all the fiddly parts while letting players enjoy stompy robot fun.